Tag Archives: loudspeakers

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Obvious vs. faith

My small home theater has 12 loudspeakers that cover the walls and ceiling making it pretty obvious why a movie plays in surround sound.

You are surrounded by speakers.

The idea of getting “surround sound” from a two-channel audio system, on the other hand, requires a leap of faith.

It doesn’t look possible to achieve a holographic three-dimensional soundstage from two speakers.

To make matters worse nearly no one hears a holographic soundstage from their two speakers. It is only the rare few we call audiophiles that have invested the time and resources to maximize their two-channel listening experience in order to achieve this seeming miracle of sound.

No wonder people shake their heads in disbelief when they hear us talking about the joys of our systems.

“I had no idea!” Is a common phrase I hear when we first play the system for a newbie.

Of course! they had no idea.

It’s anything but obvious.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Outsiders

Living in our little audiophile bubble means that everything we obsess over seems normal. It isn’t until we step outside the bubble and view our little world through the eyes of an outsider that one begins to realize just how far removed from the crowd we are.

Terms that seem obvious and normal to us like soundstaging, transparency, resolving power, and bass extension engender either head-scratching or outright contempt.

Head scratching makes sense to me. Imagine trying to explain to someone used to listening on consumer audio drek how imaging works.

It’s the outright contempt that always boggles me. Someone who has never heard a high-end audio system—usually a pro in the audio or recording world—seems to get really heated about the terminology we use. In fact, I have been told that we are akin to the devil for spreading such egregious lies about a system’s ability to produce a holographic soundstage divorced from the loudspeakers.

Why would this cause anger?

I suspect they somehow feel threatened.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

One upon a time a guy I knew here had a pair of Von Schweikert loudspeakers, where the tweeter was at about listening height, but was angled up. Standing up it sounded pretty good, but sitting dowwn wasnt. So, this is a good suggestion for some people.

A little tilt back

When setting up a pair of speakers it’s standard practice to move them closer or farther apart, more or less toe in, and away from or towards the front wall.

Rarely do we remember to angle them forward or backward. This is because it is simply not part of the standard practice in speaker setup.

But, it’s a good one to add to your arsenal.

Tilting the speaker forward or the opposite aims the tweeter more or less directly at your ear without upsetting the delicate left/right balance.

You can try this handy technique without actually moving the speaker at all. Simply raise or lower your seating height by crouching down or rising up a smidge to hear what the differences are.

Try it. You might find a new dimension in sound you hadn’t had.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Different approaches for different rooms and this is one Ive heard work, but not the ideal if the room and loudspeakers are large enough.

The rule of thirds

Rules are made to be broken and I cannot think of a better one to break than that of the Rule of Thirds.

When that rule is applied to loudspeaker setup it calls for the room to be broken up into thirds: 1/3 of the room’s longest dimension away from the front wall is where we place the speakers. That same measurement, as applied to the rear wall is where we place our seat.

What’s important to remember with this rule is that it is only a starting point. I don’t think that I have ever found a well set up system that actually adhered to the Rule of Thirds.

What this rule does, however, is emphasize the point so many of us seem to ignore. The importance of bringing the speakers out into the room.

Pushed up against the front wall, the stereo system hasn’t a chance of forming what I consider to be an acceptable soundstage.

Rules are made to be broken but only if they first serve as a starting point to which we pay attention.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Using your own products

One of the delights of Apple products is their packaging. Easy to open, clean, simple, and elegant with a promise of more joy to come with the product itself. If the packaging is a joy think how nice what’s inside must be.

What’s worth talking about is just how far removed they are from everyone else. For the vast majority of consumer products, packaging is an afterthought designed to look expensive or slick but rarely a joy to open. How many times have you had to fight to remove the little clear sticker holding the top and bottom of the package together? Or worse, find a knife or scissors to hack open a blister pack?

I often wonder how many people involved in the design of a product ever try it themselves as end users. My guess is not many. I’ll bet that as the size of a company grows the chance of a single end-user having a say over product design or packaging diminishes proportionally.

This is what makes Apple so unusual. A giant company that uses its own products.

But this isn’t a rant about Apple. No, this is about how products from smaller companies like PS Audio are, in the end, used and approved by a small handful of caring people with the power to send it back for a redo. It is about how we make products we would want to take home and use for ourselves. How we send back to engineering a design that does not better the performance in every respect from the product it is replacing or the others in the field.

Isn’t this what you expect from companies that make high-end audio? Loudspeakers that have been listened to death and labored over until every last detail is the best it can be. Amplifiers that have been measured and listened to until their performance is beyond expectations.

I have no doubt this is exactly what happens in our small community of like-minded companies. It is what you expect.

It is what you deserve.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

About 25 years ago I had a pair of Silverline loudspeakers, in a special mother of pearl finish, brought to my home for auditioning. Our dog Jasper ran into it, knocked it over and it broke. Alan Yun from Silverline made a deal with me to soften the blow of the repair and that was the first pair of Silverline speakers I purchased. He’s quite a character and I’ve very much enjoyed knowing Alan. If I wasn’t totally satisfied with my Daedalus Ulysses and double Bow’s, Id look to one of Alan’s speakers in a heartbeat.

Ratchet of change

While it is true change can happen with the flip of a switch it is more likely to occur in small ratcheted increments.

Big events like the time years ago when one of the Genesis loudspeakers I had traveled halfway around the world to set up fell over and broke in half, are certainly instant life changing events. But they are the exception, not the rule.

In fact, most of the changes in our HiFi system (and our lives) happen in steps along the journey. It might feel life-changing when we add that new power amplifier or change those speakers, but in fact, it is just part of a long chain of events that got you here in the first place.

It is probably beneficial to most of us to remember that each step of the journey gets us closer to where we want to be: moving forward.

In the end, I believe it is forward movement that we all seek. Progress and change simply provide the steps for us to get there.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Hearing into the music

One of the smartest and most experienced HiFi fanatics I know is my good friend, John Hunter of REL subs.

In response to one of my recent posts about musicians, John wrote to me what I consider a beautifully crafted lesson in the art of listening. It bears repeating.

“Hi Paul,

I once dated, briefly, a French horn player for the San Francisco Symphony.
She had great ears and quickly grew to love high end audio. She brought some of her fellow musicians over to our store in Berkeley (DB Audio) a couple of times trying to expose them to what she had fallen in love with. It never took. Watching them and their reactions, I quickly understood why. For them, the performance (musical, not audio quality) was all that mattered. They were listening carefully for their part being played and if they could follow it through the system what else mattered?
I did this myself early in my guitar playing  career, playing along endlessly to tons of rock records, memorizing great solos. etc. But it was my older brother who sat me down one night when I was 12 and asked me “How many guitars are playing right now?” I didn’t understand the question; I was a lead guitar player, it was easy to hear “my” part. That night he put on recording after recording and it gradually emerged out of the murk of a mid-‘70s low Rez system (a Sansui all-tube receiver feeding Wharfedale sand-filled loudspeakers and a Dual 1015 turntable if I remember correctly). Slowly I picked out the rhythm guitar, wait, no 3 rhythm guitar tracks. One was tuned differently and I later learned from my friend Joel Bernstein who was an all-everything to many of rock’s greatest acts that I was hearing a high tone guitar–a regular guitar tuned with the high strings a 5th higher that gave a wonderful, jangly, sparkly effect.
What I started to learn that night helped me learn to hear into the mix, dissect what I was hearing and without realizing it, put me onto the path of listening acuity that has defined my career in audio. If your readers don’t already know how to do so, pick out a particular instrument they love and start listening, first for their favorite and then for those instruments that seem to play off that instrument. Then gradually expand your listening focus around that core group until you begin to hear it all. It’s brought me so much joy and insight over the years, I hope this helps those in our hobby as a tip.”
Well said, John. And thank you.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Two different ways to listen to music and while I have headphones similar to what Paul describes here and like them, I only use them when I can’t bother others with loud sound, because that’s what I try to do here!

Finding balance

It’s likely no coincidence that my favorite headphones are from Audeze. They are based on the same planar magnetic technology behind PS Audio’s loudspeakers.

I’ve tried a number of their headphones but currently, in the mix room at Octave Records, I am enjoying a pair of their LCDMX4 which they tout as being best for mixing and mastering.

What I find fascinating about headphones is how very different in comparison to loudspeakers some aspects of the sound are. Tonally, they are nearly identical, but that’s where the similarities end.

It’s somewhat of a jarring experience to commutate between speakers and headphones on the same mix.

Some of this is to be expected. Loudspeakers have the room to contend with and the listener sits multiple feet away from them. Headphones, on the other hand, are the ultimate nearfield monitors. The source of sound from those planar magnetic drivers sits mere inches from your eardrums.

The challenge of course is finding the proper balance between them. We make decisions in the mix so the music sounds live when played back in the room on speakers. Speakers are the default standard. (Might be interesting someday to do an entire mix just for headphone users).

For me, these headphones are like a magnifying glass. They allow one to zoom in on fine details to hear deeper into the music than is possible on a loudspeaker.

The trap, I suspect, is leaning too hard in either direction: setting balances based solely on one form of reproduction than the other.

As most things in life turn out, the art is in finding a proper balance.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

My days of trusting an stereo store to put together a great stereo for me are long over.

Wild berries

Wild berries and homegrown tomatoes burst with flavor unavailable in the supermarket.

Like the difference between the food from a corporately sanitized restaurant vs. the daring creations of a street-food vendor, it’s often the smaller innovator that delights us most.

Not all of us are comfortable with venturing out from the safety of the regular kind. Buying produce from the farmer’s market is riskier than from the safety of the supermarket.

In audio, it’s often more comforting to just head down to the stereo dealer and say, “sign me up!”

For the adventurous few, the opportunity to cobble together a unique amalgam of loudspeakers, electronics, and cables is a juicy alternative to what everyone else is doing.

Not all of us are comfortable with new and different.

For the bold few willing to throw caution to the wind, there’s a chance at wonderfulness.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

PS Audio has a new power amplifier, although not on their website yet.

The progress spiral

One of our HiFi Family members mentioned to me the other day they sometimes felt as if they were on the upgrade merry-go-round. With each new piece of gear he bought from us the system got noticeably better to the point where he realized the other components were needing an upgrade as well.

I think of this not as a merry-go-round but more of a progress spiral. With each return to the start, we’re actually in a different (and better) place. Along the journey we learn and grow so that when we circle back progress has been made.

The new BHK600 amplifier is a good example. I knew it would be better than the BHK300, but this much? Within 30 minutes of the new 600 warming up and music playing I found myself in a whole new world of musical wonder. My familiar music was fresh and new. Unknown details in the music were revealed to me.

I started noticing more differences between sources.

There was a greater gap between streaming and playing on the transport.

Maybe that could be addressed with a cable swap or, more basic, should I readjust my loudspeakers again?

Each step up the progress ladder brings us back around to have a look at the assumptions and changes that got us here.

It is how we move forward.